New publication: media subsidies and the welfare state

My new research article “A welfare perspective on Nordic media subsidies” has just been published in the Journal of Media Business Studies as part of a special issue about media policy that is edited by Mart Ots and Arne H. Krumsvik.

The article builds upon my invited presentation at The European Symposium on Media Policy 2015. It argues that media subsidies can fruitfully be understood as a part of the welfare framework of the Nordic countries, the so-called Social-Democratic welfare regime (to use Esping-Andersen‘s terminology). This type of welfare state is characterized by a number of policy objectives that correspond with the justifications usually attributed to media subsidies. More specifically, media subsidies constitute a market-corrective measure that is alike the market intervention that the welfare state conducts.

The article is not a normative one that argues whether media subsidies are inherently “good” or “bad”. However, it aims at qualifying the current discussion about the state’s role in the media market in the Nordic countries, emphasizing that media subsidies are not neutral policy instruments, but rather ones that influence the configuration of the media market. What to do with media subsidies in the future is a political decision – but it is a decision that needs to be taken with open eyes and on a well-informed basis.

Anyway, here’s the abstract:

Subsidies constitute a prominent media-policy instrument, serving to correct media-market failures. However, because they interfere in the market, and because the commercial media market is under structural pressure in the digital age, there is much debate about the role of media subsidies. Within this context, this article revisits the foundation of media subsidies in certain developed democracies, aiming at qualifying the current discussions. Focusing on the Nordic countries, the article explores the connection between the social-democratic welfare-state regime and the extensive public frameworks for media subsidies found in this region. The article argues that even though continuity rather than disruption characterises the systems of direct and indirect subsidies, the current developments point towards a recalibration of the ways the Nordic countries subsidise media in the future.

The article is the first step in a series of works concerning media policy in transition in the digital age. So, more will come over the next couple of years.

The article is published behind a paywall; let me know if you have trouble accessing it.

New publication: the state of online news

A piece of good news from the publications department: my new research article “Online news: between private enterprise and public subsidy” has just been published by the leading academic journal Media, Culture & Society. The article is co-authored together with Stig Hjarvard from the University of Copenhagen and examines the current economical state of the Danish press in light of recent developments with digital business models and changes subsidy frameworks and is part of a special section (edited by Philip Schlesinger and Alex Benchimol from the University of Glasgow) on media systems in small nations.

Here’s the abstract:

The Nordic countries’ media systems are exemplary of the democratic corporatist model, and newspapers have occupied a very prominent position in the political public sphere supported by wide circulation and a political will to subsidize the press and still keep an arm’s length distance. During past decades, these features have come under pressure due to – among other things – the spread of digital media. In this article, we explore two current structural economic challenges to legacy newspaper organizations in Denmark. The first challenge regards the implementation of subscription on news websites since 2013. The second challenge concerns the revision of the Danish press subsidy law in 2013–2014. The introduction of a ‘platform neutral’ subsidy law could be interpreted as a first step toward rethinking the entire press subsidies system. Taken together, these developments pose serious challenges to the printed press: on the one hand, no viable business model seems ready to replace the old one; on the other hand, a reorientation of the regulatory system, which subsidizes the press, seems under way. Despite the global nature of ongoing transformation (digitalization and commercialization), national particularities continue to influence developments and reflect continued support for the democratic corporatist model.

The article is published behind a paywall, but I can send you an early version upon request.

Media subsidies for democracy

The so-called Dyremose-commission has just released its recommendations for the future media subsidies in Denmark. Previously, online newspapers haven’t been entitled to receive state subsidies as the money were set aside for print and broadcast media; this is an arrangement that has generated a lot of criticism. Now, the commission recommends that the money should be distributed in accordance with the production of original content, i.e. the more journalists a media organization employs, the more subsidies is should receive. This is clearly an invitation to vitalize democracy by strengthening journalism and publicist activity. No one can oppose this aim. One kind of news media, however, appears to be quite negatively affected, namely the free daily newspapers: according the the commission’s calculations, metroXpress and 24timer (both owned by Metro International) will each lose approximately 14 m DKK (a good 2.5 m USD) each year while the subsidy for Urban (owned by Berlingske Media) remains the same.

In my master thesis Gratisaviserne som politisk ressource [Free Daily Newspapers as a Political Resource] from 2009, I argued that free daily newspapers could serve an important democratic function because (1) they are the most-read newspapers among the members of society with the lowest income, the shortest education, and the hierarchically lowest jobs, and (2) their political content contains sufficient information to enable its readers to follow and (to some degree) understand the political processes. I concluded that:

All things considered, the free daily newspapers are to be regarded as a political resource to a certain degree; especially the political content of Nyhedsavisen is enabling political citizenship. Still, the political content of the free daily newspapers do not match the standards of Jyllands-Posten, whereas it is actually better than the political content of Ekstra Bladet. (p. 1)

Nyhedsavisen is no longer published but to the extent the remaining free daily newspapers still have readers among the disadvantaged groups (and I unfortunately have no recent statistics on this aspect of readership) a weakening of this particular kind of news dissemination is not unambigiously a strengthening of democracy.